The commercial fishing industry has hit another serious snag, this time on America’s west coast.
In New England it was the cod fishing fleet that was ordered to hang up their nets. This time the sardine fishermen in California, Oregon and Washington are taking the hit.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council reports a rapid and critical decline in the number of the small fish along the Pacific coast – fish usuallycooked and sold in flat cans. So sardine fishing has been shut down at least until after 2016 season.
The scientists involved suggest sardines have been overfished. Overfishing also was the reason being given for the closing of the cod and haddock fishery on the East Coast. And the problem found with along the north Gulf coast as well as in Southern Florida.
There is one exception to the ban. The Quinault Indian Nation in the State of Washington has been given a pass. They will be permitted to continue fishing for sardines.
The California sardine fishery dates back to 1896 and was once reported to be the largest fishery in the United States.
As with the Atlantic cod, the decision to shut down the sardine harvest is an effort to rebuild depleted stocks since sardine populations are said to have tumbled more than 90 percent since 2007, officials add.
The Pew Charitable Trusts offers a different reason for the drastic decline. It is part of nature’s pattern. explains Paul Shively, director, U.S. Ocean, Pacific for the Pew Charitable Trusts. There have been meaningful shifts in ocean conditions in the past that have had a significant impact on the number of sardines that are available. There was a major collapse in the 1960s, Shively points out.
“Sardines grow scarce with shifts to cooler water. However, when the population reaches this extreme low level, it is a scientific no-brainer that fishing should be curtailed so sardines don’t continue to decline and perhaps reach the point of no return,’ Shively notes.
Commercial fishermen aren’t alone in facing a crisis.
“The ongoing collapse is bad news for ocean wildlife, as well as fishermen and others who rely on a healthy ocean,” according to Shively.
The conservation group Oceana says that 90 percent of this year’s sea lion pups died of starvation because of the lack of sardines to eat.
“Sardines are small individually, but they are a big deal for the ocean food web,” Shively explains. “They form large schools known as bait balls that provide an oil-rich source of protein for many species of seabirds, marine mammals, and bigger fish, including salmon and tuna. The estimated size of the West Coast sardine population has fluctuated from several million tons— based on sediment records gathered on the seabed off the California coast.”
This suggests the reduction in numbers may be a natural event and happens when the ocean cools.